Vol.1, Ch.2, P.8
Suppertime was over. The hour waxed late.
Under the stars were the winds, the crickets, and the swings of my sword. As usual, I found myself behind the main building, immersed in the nightly regime. In the midst of the rigour, there joined a new presence: Emilie.
“Rolf…” she called quietly, “…here.”
To me was handed a loaf of bread. That I left the mess hall with naught but the taste of soot upon my tongue seemed a fact not lost upon her.
“My thanks,” I said, sheathing my sword.
“A moment, if you can…?”
Her glance went to the wall. Sensing her intent, I walked with her, and we were soon sat side-by-side against the cold brickwork.
“…Rolf, I’m… I’m sorry… for earlier,” she began as I helped myself to the bread. “…It shouldn’t have happened.”
“It’s no matter,” I brushed off. “You’re a lieutenant now. It’s a precious time; shielding me would be a waste of it.”
“…’Twas time spent with you that earned me the very promotion, wasn’t it?”
“Not so. You were promoted precisely because you are fit to play the part.”
Following the unfinished thought was a spanning silence. In its course, I finished the last of the bread, but sensing more to be said from Emilie’s heart, I remained by her side, biding the benighted quietude till her next words.
“Say, Rolf?” came the broken silence.
“Yes, my Lady?”
“Your nights are always like this, aren’t they? Spent deep in training?”
Morning and night both, that is, but I let it be.
“Is there some purpose to it… I wonder?”
Careful words, carrying the same echo as Felicia’s once upon an evening not unlike tonight.
“I believe there is, yes.”
“Rolf… I know you to be wise beyond your years. Forming strategies, managing operations… the sort of affairs that might change the Order from within—you’d be well off in them, I think. Just like when you broached the matter of lieutenant to me.”
“And who would lend their ears, besides you? The fates have made men deaf to my words, I feel. They would not brook orders from an ungraced.”
“The mareschal might not have an ear for your counsel, but for mine, he may…”
“You are like to find favour in your superiors, my Lady, but I’m afraid they nurture none for me.”
“Th-that’s not so! If we can all join hands and spare an ear for each other’s words, then surely…!”
Insistence most sincere. There was worry in Emilie’s heart. A true and deep worry for my pitiful plight, now laid bare.
“Rolf… ‘Tis not weakness to set aside the sword, you know. You can fight your battles from the war-table—it heeds little of odyl, after all. Am I wrong?”
You’re not, Emilie.
Not in the slightest.
But there’s the rub: what gracious war-table in this Order would leave a seat for an ungraced? Emilie is most kind to vouch for my ability, but I’m afraid that kindness is hers alone. Indeed, no other leader would dare humour me. What reason have they to?
Questions Emilie likely never asked. Answers she likely will never know.
But what’s more, I had no intention of throwing down the sword.
“Lady Emilie. Strategy and administration compose a knight’s duties, that much is true. And I’m glad indeed that my counsel for such has been of some avail to you. But…” I explained, searching for the next words, “…ever and always has the sword given me purchase. It is my bedrock; my heart ails to give it up.”
“Rolf…” Emilie said softly. Her own next words, strained, came with great deliberateness. “…‘Tis a comforting thought, isn’t it? That the sword you’ve brandished in days yester will avail you in days yet to come. Perhaps… too warm a comfort for your heart to part with? Is that not simply it, in the end?”
“You may be right. But not so comforting a thought for my sword itself, perhaps, to be smitten by so troublesome a man,” came my attempt at levity.
“…I see,” she relented.
There then lingered another lull between us. In that wordless while, we both stared up at the sable skies.
Oft did we take in the tapestry of stars, too, back in our time at the Buckmann barony. Side-by-side, silent, but secure in our union.
Only, those moments now all seemed but a distant memory.
“Rolf…” Emilie began again. “My father… He’s sent word…”
I looked to her. “Of what?”
“…Of a new fiancé he’s chosen for me.” My gaze fell away from the stars. Emilie went on. “‘Kenneth’. That’s his name—eldest son to Lord Albeck. Perhaps you know of them?”
“I do. Not more than twelve years of age, isn’t he? And his father: the master of Albeck viscounty, not far from where we are now.”
“Mm… That’s them, sure enough…” she said. Again, I found myself lacking words. “I wonder, Rolf… If you were made a knight, to everyone’s pleasure… then, perhaps…”
Then perhaps things would be as they once were. And as planned, I would succeed House Buckmann, and we would wed each other to a happy ever-after.
An impossible fancy, that. Such optimism bordered on madness, even. But the sudden sorrow from realising this for myself broke my heart in half.
Only, Emilie was desperately clinging on to that same fancy, and by its wiles was she beckoned here on this night, that we might discuss any other path that might lead to its fruition.
What could I say to her?
If she were to find happiness at any end, then I would be most content. Yet, that can’t be the way of it. I’d be a fool to brush it off with a simple ‘I pray for your happiness’. I knew such words would be wrong. I knew it too well. Yet, I also knew not the right words to say to her.
Not once have I ever harboured shame in being denied of odyl. Where shame is to be found is in these moments, when I am empty of any and all words. Ask any other young man, both betrothed and sixteen years of age—certainly, he would have an answer prepared. Any answer at all. But after scouring my memories with all desperation, I found nothing of avail. Nothing that might bridge the chasm growing between us.
Having exhausted my faculties, I gazed intently at the sombre side of Emilie’s face and left my lips to say what they may.
“…Ever the crybaby, you are. Even as lieutenant.”
She turned to me. “…I’m not crying.”
“But you are.”
“I’ve shed not a tear.”
“Yet you cry.”
To this, Emilie fell quiet.
How cruel can this world be? If I am to be made a man unblessed, then at the very least, make me also the sole harbour to this fleet of sorrow. I’d find some way to bear the berth, no matter the enormity.
Why in the name of all that is good must anyone other than myself be gripped with such grief?
“My Lady. You are ever generous in your measure of my worth, but I’m afraid the world shares none of it—not for an ungraced man like me,” broke I this silence, my eyes firmly fixed on Emilie. My words might’ve seemed like a bumbling babble, but it was preferable to no words at all. For her part, Emilie, too, gazed deeply back at me. “I know little of what lies ahead, but of this I can say: even should I be knighted, inheriting House Buckmann is forever a fleeting fancy.”
“I… suppose so…”
“But perhaps the path I tread wends to someplace worthwhile. I have but to follow and see where it leads. And perhaps you may be right. Perhaps swinging this sword over and over again is but a fool’s errand.”
To this, Emilie stayed quiet, listening intently.
“Yet, somehow… of this, I’m certain: the point I let go of the sword and renounce my means of fighting back, is the point where that path severs,” came to Emilie words from deep in my chest.
I felt then that with these words I was also confronting myself—my weak, pitiful self.
“As you said, there is comfort in brandishing the blade as I always have, hoping it attains to its purpose someday yet to dawn,” I continued. “Whether such will come to pass, I cannot know. But brandish it I must—this, I believe. And so long as my belief holds fast, I can’t do aught else.”
Her lips remained unmoved.
“Flimsy maunderings of a fool, I know. But it’s all I have, my Lady,” I admitted.
“And so it is…” Emilie nodded. “If that’s your belief, Rolf, then I’ve but to join you in believing.”
“Lady Emilie…” I said. “Forgive me.”
“How silly,” she remarked. “We’ve done little but seek forgiveness from each other as of late, haven’t we?”
“…That we have.”
The two of us gave strained smiles to each other.
Were they well-given? Well-received?
The stars were watching—what would I say, if they asked of this belief of mine? Or of the path I’d chosen to tread?
How essential, how utterly defining the answers surely were. Sad, then, that I yet knew naught of them.
Chapter 2 ─ End
Revision – 2022.10.27